John and Richard ~ Chapter 2: Easter Bunny

Having shared Sugar Plums with the Loving Swats Group, I think it’s fair to say that John and Richard were not greeted with universal approbation!  The verdict was expressed delightfully by Clawkit who wrote, “All I can say is that it’s a good thing that Dr Richard Evans and the extravagantly-named John Hamilton-Smythe have each other, because I’m not sure that either of them would make anyone else happy.” 

Well, that was just the challenge I needed to try and turn John and Richard into characters with whom readers would be more in sympathy.  I enjoy the company of this couple so that’s how one short story turned into a series!

It was only the pressure of work in Chambers that was keeping John Hamilton-Smythe sane. He had so many cases coming up in court that he was inundated with complicated briefs which demanded his full attention. It meant sitting for hours at his desk in the office immersed in paperwork but at least that gave him some respite from worry about his partner, Dr Richard Evans. Even so, whenever he glanced up at the small framed photograph of the two of them taken in the garden at home, he was reminded of the desolation of returning to the house each evening knowing that Richard would not be there.

Sometimes he could get so engrossed in his work that he didn’t think about Richard for an hour or two at a time and then the events of the past week would return to the forefront of his mind with such a rush that it felt like a physical body blow. Despair would wash over him, accompanied by a constriction in his chest which made him appreciate for the first time what the bereaved and the abandoned meant when they spoke of heartache. Then John found it impossible to concentrate on his work and he would sit for long periods just staring into space in silent anguish.

Grief over the failure of their relationship was as nothing, though, compared to his worry about Richard. Where was Richard? Was he staying with friends or had he gone back to his parents? Was he at the hospital or had he taken leave of absence? Why hadn’t he rung? Would he be coming over to collect his belongings? Had he recovered from that god-awful spanking and would he, could he, ever forgive John for treating him so badly? And then there was John’s silent supplication, ‘Please, please, don’t let him be hurting as much I am right now.’

John could not have explained when and how the initial physical attraction he had felt for his handsome and vivacious lover had turned into such a deep and self sacrificing love. His previous relationships had invariably been enjoyable but short-lived, ending amicably when one or the other partner was ready to move on. John had never committed himself fully to any of his previous boyfriends who had provided pleasant and entertaining company when he wasn’t working flat out to forge a career as a successful young barrister.

Then John met Dr Richard Evans. Attracted initially by his striking blonde hair, bright blue eyes and handsome features, John soon succumbed to his lively, articulate and well-informed conversation as well as his ready wit. Not that their relationship had all been plain sailing. It became apparent early on that, despite being a splendid doctor, there were aspects of Richard’s personal life which were spiralling dangerously out of control. There was an unpredictability about Richard and an unwillingness to consider the consequences of his actions. This could, on occasion, lead him into outrageous, if not downright dangerous, behaviour which threatened to damage his reputation and his career prospects. John was able to curb those tendencies and provide the stability and structure which Richard secretly craved. In return, Richard gave his lover a sense of responsibility and permanence in his personal life which he'd never experienced before. Somehow the needs of the two men seemed to mesh and their plans for a civil partnership reflected the certainty that each had met the love of his life.

Why then had things gone so wrong? And over such a stupid, senseless thing as an Easter Bunny! John didn’t waste time thinking about Richard’s latest prank and subsequent punishment. Instead, he realised that the bunny debacle could only be one symptom of a much more deep seated crisis in their relationship. The trouble was he couldn’t work out when or why Richard had ceased to trust him and he had no notion how he could repair the damage to their relationship. He just knew that he could not contemplate a future without Richard by his side.

It wasn’t in John Hamilton-Smythe’s nature to discuss personal problems with colleagues at work. Nor did he have any close friends outside the office from whom he could seek help and advice about his love life. He was very close to his mother but he was dreading having to tell her that Richard had left him. His mother was very fond of Richard and was getting excited about the plans for their civil partnership ceremony later in the year. It wouldn’t be the cancellation of the ceremony itself which would upset her though, but the knowledge that all her hopes for her son’s future happiness had been dashed. John knew he would not be able to hide his distress from his mother, however successful he might be at hiding his feelings at work.

In fact, John had not been as successful in hiding his anguish from his colleagues as he fancied. In the bustle of their busy city Chambers one man was aware that John Hamilton-Smythe was very far from his usual self. John’s fellow barristers were far too focussed on the pressures of the job to see through his façade but one of the clerks, Martin James, noticed the lost expression on the young barrister’s face when he thought no one was observing him. Martin had also seen the hurt in John’s eyes and the struggle he was having to concentrate on his workload.

Martin James was a fixture in Chambers. No one knew when he first started work there although it was rumoured that he remembered the Head of Chambers arriving as a junior. His age was recorded somewhere in the staff records but to his colleagues Martin appeared ageless. It was true that he now only worked two and a half days a week but he was such a mine of knowledge and information that the partners could not imagine being without the services of such an experienced and competent clerk. Yet he was so self effacing that he could move quietly around the building without drawing attention to his presence. On a number of occasions he had delivered bundles of documents, tied with red legal tape, to John Hamilton-Smythe’s office only to find its occupant staring out the window with an unfocussed gaze, his eyes swimming with unshed tears.

Martin had done a lot of work for John in recent years and he admired the efficiency and the touch of ruthlessness which gave the gifted barrister such a high success rate in court. It saddened him to see John’s inner spark extinguished and the pace of his work diminishing. Not that there was any problem about the completion of paperwork. John was staying late in the office to get everything done. It seemed that he no longer had any reason to rush off to the station at the end of the day. And that gave Martin an idea. He didn’t think he could do anything himself to help John but maybe if he invited him home for a meal at the end of the week then some solution just might present itself.

John was surprised to be invited to dinner by Martin. To be honest, the two of them did little more than exchange essential business information at work and, most of the time, John hardly recognised Martin’s existence. However, he so dreaded going home to an empty house to lie awake alone in bed worrying about Richard, to say nothing of filling his empty weekend, that he accepted the invitation without considering what had prompted it. Enquiries elicited the information that Martin lived in a village out in Surrey and that John would be most welcome to stay the night. In return John suggested bringing his car up to town and then driving out to Surrey with Martin after work.

They left the office before five to try and miss the worst of the rush hour traffic. John helped Martin climb into the low seat of his Porsche and then reached round him to help fasten the unfamiliar seat belt. He wondered briefly what they would find to talk about on the journey out to Surrey but then he had to focus all his attention on the heavy Friday night traffic, leaving little space for conversation until they were well out of town. When the traffic eased he relaxed in the realisation that Martin was a very restful and undemanding companion. By the time they drew up outside a lovely brick cottage set alongside the village green, John was feeling at ease and looking forward to his first cooked meal of the week.

He was quite unprepared for the welcome he received when Martin ushered him into the house. A tall, grey haired man greeted him with a hug and then fixed him with steely grey eyes which seemed to see far more than John wished to disclose. He felt profoundly uncomfortable with the realisation that he had never before thought about Martin’s sexual orientation and was therefore slightly shocked to be introduced to his partner, Geoff Robinson. As he responded politely to the introduction, he feared that his initial surprise had not escaped Geoff’s piercing eyes which glittered with repressed amusement. He berated himself for his stupidity in assuming that the gay community was made up only of men under fifty, although that had been his own experience in the bars and clubs he visited before meeting Richard. He hastily revised his assumptions as he was escorted into a sitting room exquisitely furnished with antique pieces which perfectly matched the age and style of the house.

Drinks were served and nibbles were provided while Geoff disappeared into the kitchen to put what he called the finishing touches to the dinner. When he called through that dinner was served, John was unsurprised to find that the dining room featured a long mahogany table with matching ladder back chairs. A place was laid at either end of the table and one in the middle for him, each place setting adorned with gold edged china plates, crystal glasses and starched linen napkins. Martin and his partner clearly appreciated the finer things in life. The delicious smells coming from the steaming serving dishes reminded John just how hungry he was and he did full justice to the meal Geoff had spent the afternoon preparing. Apart from being a good cook, Geoff was also an entertaining conversationalist and John soon found himself engaged in a number of lively discussions in which Martin participated fully, saying more than he ever did in the office.

Some while later, over coffee and mints which were served on the coffee table in the sitting room, Geoff surprised John with a much more personal observation.

“Martin tells me that you’re going through a bad patch at the moment. Care to tell us about it? Maybe we could help.”

John’s first response was one of anger. How did Martin know about his problems and how dare this stranger intrude into his private affairs? He looked challengingly at Geoff but he saw something in those steely grey eyes which made him instinctively lower his own and think more carefully about the response he was about to make. Geoff seemed quite happy to wait and continued to sip his coffee while looking speculatively at John who had the uncomfortable feeling that his thought processes were an open book to this rather formidable man. Finally he decided that, having met with nothing but kindness in this house, he had nothing to lose by telling the truth. Maybe Geoff and Martin could offer some helpful advice.

“Yeah, well, my partner and I are going through a rough patch at the moment,” John offered in a neutral tone. When there was no response from his hosts an uncomfortable silence ensued until John took a shuddering breath and uttered the words he had spoken to no one else, “Richard has left me.”

To his shame, John felt his eyes fill with tears at the dreadful finality of his admission. Too proud to wipe his eyes or let his tears fall, he tried desperately to blink away the moisture rather than reveal the depth of his emotions. He was winning the battle with his traitorous body until Geoff got up from his armchair and came to sit beside John on the sofa, wrapping a comforting arm around his shoulders. The wordless gesture of support and the strength of the older man’s body leaning into his own was enough to break through John’s upper class reserve and he sank his head into his hands and wept.

The release of so much pent up emotion had a cathartic effect and before long John’s tears stopped falling and his breathing regained its normal rhythm. He then lifted red rimmed eyes to his hosts with considerable embarrassment, only to encounter looks of calm and concerned sympathy.

“I’m sorry… sorry… it’s just… I haven’t…”

“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Geoff said firmly. “You’ve been bottling up your feelings and I’m guessing this is the first time you’ve told anyone what’s happened. I’m so glad Martin brought you home. You’re safe here and you can get everything into the open… if you think it would help.”

The friendly and unpressured invitation to share his troubles did tempt John to unburden himself, although he knew he could not divulge precise details about the breakdown of his relationship. Instead he just started talking about Richard, sharing some of the thoughts which ran through his head whenever he allowed his mind to wander.

“We were planning to celebrate our civil partnership in a couple of month’s time, you know.”

“Congratulations. Martin and I had a wonderful day last year at ours.”

That piece of information both surprised and intrigued their visitor.

Geoff picked up a framed photograph from the mantelpiece showing the couple, dressed in identical morning suits and holding hands, surrounded by friends throwing confetti. John took the picture for a closer look and realised that some of his colleagues from the office were amongst the guests.

“It’s a lovely picture. I… er… I didn’t know… I would have…” John felt he was remiss in not having given his good wishes, if not a small present, to his long serving colleague on such a special occasion.

“Oh, don’t worry. I know Martin doesn’t say too much at work about our private lives. We only invited a few friends. It was a quiet but very joyful affair. After all, we have been together for over thirty years. At our age we have to be thinking about the legalities, you know… authority as next of kin, pension rights, inheritance tax. All the stuff that you lawyers charge a fortune to sort out!”

During the ensuing laughter, Geoff and Richard exchanged a brief glance which nonetheless conveyed the depth of feeling between the two men who had spent a lifetime together. It did not escape John’s notice and he marvelled at their devotion even as he mourned the loss of a lover with whom he had hoped to spend the rest of his days.

“Well, I’ve thrown away the chance to be with my partner thirty years from now,” John said, and the self reproach in that statement was clearly apparent to Geoff.

“Was it something you did?” he asked gently.

“Oh yes. It was all to do with that stupid business over the Easter Bunny,” John replied, forgetting that he had intended to keep quiet about the whole matter. “I was just so angry that Richard could do that to me again.”

“The Easter Bunny at the office?” Martin enquired immediately.


“I had no idea that your Richard was behind that,” Martin said.

“Behind it. He was in it!” John responded furiously.

Geoff was obviously at a loss throughout this exchange and Martin turned to him to explain.

“We had a giant Easter Bunny arrive at the office. You know the sort of thing: furry suit, giant head, floppy ears, cotton tail. He was giving away mini Easter eggs. Well, more like throwing them into the offices. It was all a bit of fun really except the partners were entertaining a prospective new corporate client. We didn’t make a good impression and the Head of Chambers was furious. We think the contract has gone elsewhere. Needless to say, the guy responsible had a very uncomfortable interview with our esteemed leader and opinion has it that he was lucky to keep his job.”

John paled as Martin’s explanation drew to a close.

“The guy responsible? What do you mean the guy responsible?”

“Didn’t you know? It was Darren, the messenger. He’d been put up to it by some of the secretaries. He was just showing off and was really shaken to get into so much trouble. He’s very young but he’s on his best behaviour now…”

Martin’s voice trailed off as he realised that their guest had gone deathly white. Martin jumped up and grabbed the coffee cup from John’s nerveless fingers as Geoff bent John’s head between his knees. Supported firmly and encouraged to take deep breaths, the colour returned to John’s cheeks as a healthy blood flow to his brain was restored.

“Oh God. Oh my God. I thought it was Richard up to his usual tricks. And he led me to believe… I accused him… I punished him. Oh, God. Why didn’t he say something?”

“You mean you thought it was Richard dressed as the Easter Bunny,” said Martin.

“Yes. You know what he’s like. Remember the Christmas party. I thought he did it deliberately to wind me up again.”

“No, I don’t remember the Christmas party,” said Martin quietly. “Remind me what happened again.”

“You must remember his Sugar Plum Fairy stunt!”

“Oh,” said Geoff, “so that was Richard. The Sugar Plum Fairy! You didn’t introduce him to us and so I didn’t realise I’d actually met your partner.”

“I didn’t introduce him to anyone,” John admitted, realising for the first time that it must have been daunting for Richard, left to himself all evening in a room full of strangers. “I was so angry with him for turning up in that outfit that I didn’t talk to him… or spend much time talking to anyone else that night.”

“Well, we very much enjoyed meeting him, didn’t we Martin. What a charming young man, and such good company. Don’t tell me that he’s left you just because you mistakenly accused him of dressing up as an Easter Bunny!”

“No. It’s worse than that. Much worse. I can’t… It’s personal…”

John sank his head into his hands and took a few moments to regain his composure. Geoff directed the briefest of glances towards his partner but Martin responded immediately to the unspoken request. He stood up and began to stack their coffee cups and saucers onto the tray before pleasantly bidding them both good night as he claimed exhaustion at the end of a busy week.

When they were alone Geoff looked speculatively at his guest and then appeared to change the subject, much to the younger man’s relief.

“I’m so pleased you accepted Martin’s invitation for this evening. He talks a lot about you and I’ve enjoyed meeting you at last.”

John’s surprise must have registered on his face because Geoff reinforced his statement.

“Oh, yes. He works long hours to get things right for you.”

“I didn’t…  I… I didn’t ask him to.”

“I know you didn’t ask him to but he’s a perfectionist by nature and he admires you. He wants to do a good job when you give him a task… But that wasn’t what you were going to say was it?”

An awkward silence ensued and John found himself unable to meet the other man’s eyes.

Finally Geoff broke the silence.

“Oh, I know exactly what you started to say before you realised what a damning admission it would be. I would just like to hear you say it though… if, that is, you have the courage to be honest with me.”

John took a deep breath, looked up and said, “I was going to say I didn’t know that Martin worked overtime for me. I didn’t know because I don’t talk to him much at work… and… and… I just accepted…”

John couldn’t go on but Geoff interjected with a note of steel in his voice which belied the calm friendliness of his conversation earlier in the evening.

“It seems that you accept a lot from others without giving much thought to what you’re offering in return. You’ve been thoughtless in your dealings with my own dear Martin and I think the time has come for you to tell me precisely what’s been going on between you and Richard. I promise you total confidentiality. I won’t even tell Martin if you don’t want me to. That’s why I asked him to leave us. Nothing you can say will surprise or shock me. I’m hoping that I can help you both but you will have to trust me. I appreciate that’s a tall order as you hardly know me but the choice is yours.”

John considered the offer and then gave an imperceptible nod, although his next statement did not provide any further enlightenment for his host.

“That bloody bunny! He’d been making sly comments about Easter Bunny outfits. I just jumped to the wrong conclusion. Why didn’t he tell me the truth?”

“Stop beating yourself up and tell me exactly what you did,” came the firm instruction.

John raised challenging eyes to his host but the look he got in return nearly took his breath away. He had seen it once or twice before from a certain high court judge he had tried to bamboozle in the courtroom, learning very swiftly not to mess with his lordship. Geoff exuded that same effortless dominance and John gave up the fight before it had even begun.

“I punished Richard unjustly… and very harshly.”

“Punished. How did you punish him?”

John forced himself to admit the embarrassing truth. “I… I… spanked him. I spanked him with a paddle.”

John did not seem fazed by the admission. “Is this something you’ve done before. Is it a regular part of your relationship?”

“Yeah. I’ve done it before.”

“With Richard’s consent?”

“What do you mean with Richard’s consent? It’s punishment for God’s sake. I’m the one who makes the decisions.”

“And he’s the one who gives his consent,” came the calm reply. “You’re in a partnership, not a dictatorship.”

“But he does such bloody stupid things. It’s not just that he embarrasses me and risks my career prospects, as well as his own. He’s done some really dangerous things. He’s a doctor, for heaven’s sake. People expect a certain standard in his private life as well as in his professional life. You’ve no idea of the risks he’s taken. He could have found himself up in front of the General Medical Council before I put a stop to his antics.”

“And has he understood all of this? Has he accepted that he is at fault? Has he agreed to take your punishment? Has it helped him manage better? Has it helped the two of you move on?”

“Oh, hell, I don’t know. How would I know?”

“By talking to Richard. By asking him how he feels and what he wants. By coming to an agreement. By making very sure that what you’re doing is best for him. By taking responsibility for him and knowing exactly what the effects of any punishment will be… Tell me, what part exactly does discipline play in your relationship?”

“Well, in the bedroom… we both like… you know…”

“I don’t know unless you tell me precisely. I presume that you enjoy spanking him and that he enjoys an erotic spanking from you.”

John nodded and knew that he was blushing.

“Don’t look so embarrassed!” Geoff laughed and John relaxed a little. “This is the so-called English vice after all! And it’s always linked with discipline in the public schools, of which you, no doubt, are a product. What I’m more concerned about is the nature of the punishment you gave Richard. You said you punished him harshly. What did you mean by that?”

John took a deep breath and told the truth.

“I used the paddle I bought him for Christmas. We’ve had some fun with it but this time I really laid into him. I was so angry. I have no idea how many times I hit him but it was full force on his bare bottom. He cried. He was sobbing… He couldn’t get his breath. I wouldn’t let up. I lost it. It was only when he was packing his bag before leaving that he just said very quietly, ‘I didn’t. I didn’t do it.’ I think I knew then that I’d made a dreadful mistake.”

“How much damage did you do to him?”

“I don’t know. Oh, God, this is awful. His bottom was scarlet and there were some purple patches… He was certainly bruised and I’m afraid he may have blistered. He was in a lot of pain when he walked out.”

John covered his face with his hands as he once again pictured the grimace of pain on his lover’s face and the shocked hurt in his eyes as he cast one parting glance backwards before walking out the front door. Geoff allowed his guest a minute or two to recover his composure before posing a simple question.

“Have you ever been paddled?”

“No,” came the startled response.

“Well, a good rule is never to use an implement on someone else which you haven’t felt across your own backside.”

John reacted to that blunt statement with a mortified expression and, as he averted his eyes in shame, Geoff rapidly came to a decision.

“I suggest that now would be a good time to find out what the paddle feels like. You need to experience some of what you’ve been handing out.”

John’s mortification gave way to a look of horror but Geoff reassured him.

“Don’t worry, I’m not proposing anything like the punishment you say you gave to Richard. Just a taste of the paddle so you know what it can do. And we’re not just talking about physical pain here. It takes some courage to present yourself for this sort of punishment. Do you think you can take it?”

Put like that John felt that he was being challenged to prove something. He wasn’t sure what he had to prove but he didn’t want to disappoint this man. He was also feeling extremely guilty about how he had treated Richard and there was something to be said for knowing what his chosen implement could do. It cost him something to overcome his pride but finally John nodded his assent and was told to wait while Geoff went upstairs, only to see him reappear a minute or two later holding a thick leather paddle.

“Is this like the paddle you used on Richard?”

It was exactly like the paddle John had ordered before Christmas on the internet. Presumably Geoff had got his from the same source and for the same purpose. John once again berated himself for being so slow on the uptake. He was in the presence of a man who knew what he was doing with this paddle and, to judge from his grim expression, he was going to give his guest a very thorough lesson in its use.

“I’ll just give you six strokes with this paddle but I’ll make each one count. When I think how careless you’ve been of my sweet Martin I will have no trouble giving you a good hiding, I can assure you. And you might like to concentrate your thoughts on the punishment you gave to your partner for an offence he didn’t commit.”

With that Geoff assumed a very businesslike manner and directed John to stand up which he did at once, conscious that his breathing had become rather fast and shallow and his hands were slightly shaking.

“Drop your trousers and underpants and bend over the arm of the sofa.”

John removed his jacket and laid it on the sofa. Then he loosened his tie and undid the top button of his shirt. When he could delay no longer he slowly moved to undo the fastening on his trousers and pull down the zip. It seemed such an inappropriate thing to be doing in his host’s sitting room and he had to force himself to slip his thumbs into the side of his trousers and underpants. However, he couldn’t bring himself to take his trousers down in front of Geoff so he walked round to the side of the sofa and, with his back to the older man, he slid his trousers and underpants down below his knees. Then with a shuddering sigh he bent forward over the arm of the sofa, reaching back to pull his shirt up into the small of his back, baring his buttocks for the paddle.

Geoff had been right. It wasn’t just about the pain. John felt an overwhelming sense of humiliation at being naked and vulnerable in this way. He was conscious of the cold on his exposed skin and he hoped that this was the cause of the unaccustomed trembling in his thighs and buttocks. He didn’t want to humiliate himself by revealing to Geoff just how terrified he was. For some reason he was conscious of wanting to impress this man and he realised how much he trusted Geoff to give him what he needed and not more than he could bear.

What he was finding difficult, though, was the waiting. He couldn’t understand why the spanking hadn’t begun but he was afraid to look round to see what Geoff was doing. Instead he folded his arms on the sofa and buried his head in his arms in a gesture which he realised mirrored Richard’s in a similar situation. When Richard was punished, did he feel as scared and as vulnerable and as ashamed as this? Of course he did. And that was why Geoff was waiting. He was giving John time to work that out for himself. As he understood the reason for the delay John relaxed slightly and his body visibly slumped.

Seconds later he was startled by a thunderous crack as the paddle made contact with the very centre of his bare bottom. Even before his nerve endings registered the agonising pain, he was conscious that his body had been forced inches forward across the arm of the sofa. Now it seemed absurd to have worried about the embarrassment of having to drop his trousers and bend over for Geoff. All such concerns were eradicated as John’s whole being was consumed with the effort to contain this appalling sting without disgracing himself.

He squeezed his eyes tightly shut and blew a number of rapid breaths through pursed lips in an effort to absorb the pain without making a sound. Somewhere at the back of his mind he registered the fact that Martin had gone to bed and that Geoff would probably expect him to take this punishment — or was it meant to be a demonstration? — in silence. He remembered too that Richard had not cried out until well into his most recent punishment. In fact, John remembered, with a sense of shame, his feeling of satisfaction when Richard had finally given way to tears. He had no time, though, to examine his conscience or his emotions more deeply before his attention was unceremoniously grabbed again.

The second stroke was delivered lower and to one side, followed rapidly by another placed with unerring accuracy in precisely the same spot on the other cheek. The speed of the two strokes took John by surprise and gave him no time to catch his breath in between. The pain flared across his entire backside and an involuntary yell of pure agony escaped his lips. Yet he felt a sense of relief that he had at least made it to the half way point.

Geoff gave him a moment or two to recover and then, when he saw John’s clenched muscles begin to relax, he dealt the next swat firmly across the crease below John’s bottom, catching the sensitive skin at the top of his thigh. John’s body began to swing upward in response to the intensity of the pain, only to be restrained by a firm hand between his shoulder blades placing him back in position. The hand remained lightly in place, reinforcing John’s resolve not to move again, as the companion swat hit the identical area on his other thigh and once again he yelped in agony.

There was another short pause giving John a moment to reflect on the fact that he was on the receiving end of a master class. He felt no inclination to thank his tormentor, though, as he braced himself for the final stroke which he somehow felt would be one to remember. Geoff did not disappoint, bringing the paddle down full force in the centre of John’s bottom, exactly over the site of the first swat.

The tears of pain which had been brimming in John’s eyes overflowed down his cheeks, to be followed by tears of shame and remorse. Having broken down once already that evening, John was deeply embarrassed to succumb a second time. He struggled to stem the flow of tears which he regarded as unmanly and succeeded only in gasping and choking into the sofa cushions until Geoff’s strong arms pulled him up into a firm hug. Initially he stiffened and pulled back but when it became clear that Geoff was not going to let him go, John gave up the struggle and cried into Geoff’s shoulder until he was able to master himself.

Finally, he mumbled, “Sorry. I’m sorry,” as he rubbed the back of his hand across his nose and stepped back from Geoff.

“There’s nothing at all to be sorry for,” Geoff replied, pulling a wodge of tissues from a box on the bookshelf and handing them to John. “You took that well.”

John didn’t feel he’d been very brave at all but, even so, he felt cheered by Geoff’s praise. He also realised that he felt a bit better at having atoned in a small way for treating his lover so badly.

“I’m feeling sore, bloody sore,” he said ruefully and with returning self confidence. “I never realised that thing packed such a punch! And I’m feeling wiser. Yeah, I’m definitely a wiser and a sorer man.”

“Good. Then you’ll think more carefully before you pick up a paddle in future.”

“I’m never, ever going to use the paddle again.”

“I wouldn’t want you to make any hasty decisions about that now. The object of the exercise, after all, was to teach you how to use it responsibly. I think you need to come to terms with all that you’ve found out tonight and perhaps we could talk again in the morning. I’m hoping we’ll be able to work out a way forward for you and Richard but I feel I want to sleep on this as well. I might have a fresh perspective in the morning.”

John glanced at the clock and was surprised to see how late it was. He was more than content to follow Geoff upstairs where he was shown into the guest bedroom. The room was warm, the curtains were drawn and the bedside lamp cast a soft glow over the bed covers which had been turned down invitingly. Soft fluffy towels were laid out over the foot of the bed and John’s overnight bag had been placed on a chair.

“The main bathroom is just opposite your bedroom and it’s all yours; we use the ensuite bathroom off the master bedroom. There’s always plenty of hot water so you can shower now or in the morning. Help yourself to any of the toiletries in the bathroom. Martin keeps a good supply in the bathroom cabinet for our guests. Feel free to get up whenever you want in the morning. If you fancy a lie in you can always have a late breakfast.”

With that, Geoff wished John goodnight and turned to leave the guest bedroom. John detained him briefly just to say he had no problem with Geoff telling Martin the whole story, feeling it was unfair to expect the couple to keep secrets from one another. Geoff smiled his thanks before creeping quietly along the corridor to the master bedroom, not wanting to disturb Martin if he was already asleep.

John unpacked his bag in search of his pyjamas and toilet bag which he took with him into the bathroom, along with one of the clean towels. There he undressed in front of the long mirror which enabled him to survey the damage done by the paddle. Except there was no damage worthy of the name. The mirror just reflected a hot, flaming red bottom which made John think that he would sleep most comfortably on his tummy and that it would be wise to postpone his hot shower until the morning.

Expecting to be kept awake by the pain and determined to get up early, John fell into an exhausted sleep and couldn’t believe how late it was when he woke on the Saturday morning. He could hear the radio in the kitchen and he suspected his hosts had been up for hours, a suspicion confirmed by Martin who came up with a cup of tea when he heard John moving about.

“There’s no rush,” Martin said. “We always take things easy at the weekends. Have a leisurely shower and we’ll make you a cooked breakfast when you’re ready.”

That sounded a very good plan to John who finally joined his hosts who were lingering over their coffee at the kitchen table and sharing the numerous supplements from Saturday’s edition of The Times. When John was tucking into his bacon and eggs Geoff returned to the topic which dominated all their minds.

“I don’t know if you’ve given any more thought to the situation between you and Richard but, if I may, I would like to make a suggestion.”

“Please do. I’ve spent a week worrying about Richard. I don’t know where he is or what he’s doing and I don’t know what to do for the best.”

“Well the obvious thing is to get in touch with him and arrange to meet. You’re not going to make any progress until you start talking.”

“I know. But he was so angry and upset when he left that I was afraid he wouldn’t want to speak to me again and I couldn’t bear another argument over the phone.”

“No, you mustn’t try and talk over the phone. Just arrange to meet… on neutral ground if that will help.”

“What will help is the fact that I have so much to say sorry for. It’s all my fault. I accused him of something he didn’t do. I didn’t believe his denial. And I punished him brutally. I just hope and pray that he’ll forgive me and come home.”

“Hang on a minute before you start putting on the sackcloth and ashes. This isn’t all your fault. I’ve been thinking about things carefully since last night and there’s one part of the puzzle which doesn’t fit. Richard didn’t deny that he was responsible for the bunny stunt, did he? Or, rather, he didn’t deny it until after you’d punished him. Why didn’t he say something when you first accused him? That’s very odd, but it does mean that he has to take some responsibility for the mess that you two are in.”

John considered the point. He hadn’t really thought things through in any detail before then. Now he realised that Richard had seemed strangely willing to take the blame for something he hadn’t done. He’d even hinted that he was the one responsible.

“Geoff’s got a point there,” said Martin who'd heard all the details from his partner earlier in the morning. “Would you have gone ahead and punished Richard if he’d promised you he hadn’t been anywhere near our Chambers in a bunny outfit?”

“No, I can honestly say I wouldn’t have done. I do trust him and he wouldn’t tell me an outright lie about something like that.”

“Well,” said Geoff, “there’s more going on here than meets the eye but it’s not something to challenge Richard about, at least not to start with. You will need to see if you can work round to it gently and just hope that he’ll volunteer an explanation without you having to ask. Why don’t you ring him and see if you can arrange to meet some time this weekend.”

John pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket and turned it on but he couldn’t bring himself to ring the stored number.

“Would you like some privacy?” Martin asked with his customary sensitivity.

“No. It’s not that. I just don’t think I can ring him. Not out of the blue when I haven’t seen him all week. If he’s still angry and we argue over the phone I’ll have no hope left. I think I’ll text him first. It will at least give him some time to think and calm down if he needs to.”

John sat rapidly pressing the keys on his mobile until he was satisfied with the text he wanted to send: ‘Have missed you, darling. Let’s meet up and talk. So much for me to put right. Will ring when I get home to fix a time. Hope to see you soon.’

He pressed ‘send’ before he could change his mind and then poured himself another cup of coffee to steady his nerves. In less than a minute his mobile trilled to announce a new text and John jumped, realising that it could only be an unexpectedly swift response to his message. He picked up the phone and opened his inbox where he read: ‘Thank God. Tried to get in touch Friday evening. Went round to house and saw car gone. Been worried all night. Am waiting for your call. Love you.’

Wordlessly, he passed the phone across to Geoff who read the message aloud and then said, “Well, I think that looks like a promising start. I presume you want to get off home now but remember we’re here all weekend. Please do get in touch if you need help, today or whenever. I really mean that, John.”

John had no doubt about the sincerity of the offer. He felt he'd made two new friends that weekend, friends who understood him and friends who had met and liked Richard. He had a feeling he would indeed be seeing more of this couple. Now he went back upstairs to pack up his few belongings and then sat on the bed to send a final text to his lover. He kept it brief having considered, and swiftly dismissed, any attempt to explain where he'd spent the night. He didn’t, after all, know where Richard was staying currently either. He just texted: ‘Home in an hour. Talk to you then. Love you too.’

In fact, it took him less than an hour to drive home and as he turned into his road he immediately spotted Richard’s car standing on the drive. As he pulled in behind it, he realised that Richard was still sitting in the driver’s seat and their eyes met as Richard looked up in his rear view mirror. John got out of his Porsche and went to retrieve his overnight bag from the boot, by which time Richard was standing awkwardly by the front door.

“I hope you don’t mind. I couldn’t wait for your call. I thought I’d just come straight round.”

“Of course I don’t mind. I’m so glad you’re here. Why didn’t you go straight in when you arrived. It’s your house too, remember!”

“I didn’t like to. I was the one who walked out. I didn’t know whether you’d have me back or not.”

John said nothing. He just put his key in the lock, swung his bag over his shoulder and put his arm around Richard, pulling him into the hallway where he enfolded his lover in a tight hug of welcome and then kissed him until he felt some of the tension melt away from the rigid body in his arms.

If John was feeling nervous about how this reconciliation was going to go, it was clear his partner was in an even worse state of trepidation. It seemed important to re-establish normality before they embarked on what was likely to be a painful exploration of feelings for both of them. John turned up the central heating and then headed into the kitchen to put the kettle on.

“Cup of tea?” he asked as he set out mugs and grabbed the biscuit barrel.

“Yes, please,” responded Richard, gathering the courage to shift his shoulders off the kitchen doorframe so he could come and sit down at the kitchen table. He didn’t seem ready to initiate any further conversation, though, so John talked about his evening at Martin and Geoff’s house. He described the lovely cottage and its tastefully appointed interior. Richard showed more interest when he talked about his hosts, remembering them from the Christmas party. He blushed with pleasure when John repeated Geoff’s observation about him being charming company. How often, John wondered, had he complimented Richard in the past or passed on favourable opinions expressed by other people? It wasn’t difficult to answer that question, and the answer was shaming. He resolved there and then to behave more considerately towards his lover in the future.

Encouraged by John’s calm and unthreatening demeanour, Richard gradually disclosed information about his own activities during the past week. It emerged that he'd been staying with a colleague at the hospital who was happy to offer a bed in his spare room. The major problem, however, had been a lack of clean and appropriate clothing, given that Richard had just grabbed the first items that came to hand when packing his bag before leaving the house in a state of agitation.

“I don’t want you thinking I just came back for a change of clothes, though,” he said with a laugh, having explained the problem caused by his hasty departure. Then, more seriously, he added, “I know we need to have a proper talk and there are things I need to tell you.”

That sounded worrying and John feared that, although they were beginning to feel comfortable again in each other’s company, Richard might still be planning to leave him. He, therefore, responded very rapidly.

“And there are things that I need to tell you. Top of the list is how sorry I am for not trusting you, for not believing you and for punishing you so unjustly and so harshly. I was brutal with that paddle and I’m praying that you’re going to forgive me and let me have another chance to show you how much I love you.”

Richard stood up and put his arms around his lover. “You’re never brutal and there’s nothing I blame you for. Most of this mess was caused by me… as per usual.”

When John tried to protest, Richard would not give way. “Really, John, I don’t blame you for what happened. But if you want my forgiveness then you have it. I freely forgive you. It’s all academic anyway because you’re going to be furious when you find out what I’ve done.”

His voice rose in agitation which John would once have interpreted as anger and responded to in like manner. This time he just steered Richard into the living room where they could sit down together on the sofa. Taking his lover’s hands in his own he quietly and simply asked Richard to explain everything to him.

“It wasn’t me in that bunny suit, you know,” Richard said rather plaintively.

“I know that now, my love, and I’m so sorry I punished you for something you didn’t do.”

“I let you spank me, though. I didn’t stop you. I thought a spanking might make everything all right… and when it didn’t I was so angry… and I didn’t want you to go on thinking I’d done something I hadn’t.”

Richard was getting more and more upset but he still hadn’t explained to John why he'd accepted punishment for an offence he didn’t commit. Mindful of Geoff’s warning, John didn’t want to press Richard but it was getting to the point where he had to ask the question.

“Why didn’t you just tell me the truth? I would have believed you, Richard, really I would. Why did you let me go on thinking you were responsible for that stupid prank?”

“Because I’ve done something much, much worse and I thought… if I let you punish me… perhaps that would set things straight and it would all go away… but it hasn’t and… I can’t… I can’t tell you… I… I…”

Richard suddenly jumped up and made a rush for the stairs. John was surprised and disappointed to see his partner run away and he got up to follow him at a more sedate pace. As he reached the landing the sound of retching immediately explained Richard’s hasty exit and John hesitated only briefly before going into the bathroom and supporting his lover’s heaving body until the spasms passed. He then dampened a flannel which he used to wipe Richard’s tear and sweat streaked face before offering him a glass of water which he gulped down thirstily.

“What was that all about then?”

“Total panic. I’m so scared. I’ve done something unforgivable and I don’t know how to tell you.”

“I can’t imagine what you could possibly have done to get into such a state about telling me. And I’m sorry; I’m not very good with anyone who's sick. I’m afraid of doing the wrong thing.” He gave an embarrassed and apologetic laugh. “I rely on the doctor in the house for all things medical.”

Richard returned an understanding grin which defused some of the tension between the two men. Turning back to the sink, he refilled the glass and added mouthwash, rinsing and spitting until he felt totally refreshed. John then reached out to take his partner’s hand and together they went into the bedroom and sat down side by side on the bed. It occurred to John that Richard might find it easier to talk in the intimacy of their bedroom, without needing to make eye contact with his partner.

John encouraged him gently. “There’s nothing you could possibly have done which I’m going to find unforgivable. Please trust me on that, Richard.”

Richard squared his shoulders and seemed to come to a decision. He took a deep breath and said quietly but unexpectedly, “You know you have a client called Tavoularis.”

John couldn’t imagine what was coming next but he couldn’t confirm or deny that statement; it was an issue of client confidentiality. And he was very surprised that Richard’s knew about an aspect of his work which he never discussed at home.

“I know you’re representing Mr Tavoularis,” Richard persisted. “I saw the file you brought home to work on.”

Again John said nothing. It was a delicate divorce case, not the sort of thing which he usually handled, but Mr Tavoularis was one of their most important clients with worldwide business interests. His was a messy divorce with huge sums of money at stake in the final settlement.

“I’ve never touched your papers before, I swear. But when I saw the name I just knew. I never really thought about the consequences. I just saw an opportunity to help a distressed patient. It was only afterwards that I realised how much damage I may have done to your professional reputation.”

Richard was gazing fixedly at his hands which were twisting with agitation in his lap. He forced himself to go on.

“It’s not a common name, Tavoularis, is it? At least not round here. So I realised at once who your client must be. His wife, Mrs Tavoularis, is my patient and part of her problem stems from stress over the divorce proceedings — it’s a breach of patient confidentiality to tell you that, of course. Anyway, she’s convinced that her husband has failed to declare a substantial element of his wealth, much of which is in offshore holdings. When I glanced in your file, it was only out of curiosity, just to see whether my patient is suffering from paranoia. I didn’t expect to find all your client’s bank accounts, investments and properties listed…”

“Oh, God, Richard. What did you do?”

John’s tone of sad resignation, rather than the anger Richard was expecting to hear, gave the young doctor the courage to provide the one piece of damning evidence against himself which he knew would be the final nail in the coffin of their relationship.

“I photocopied the relevant pages and gave them to Mrs Tavoularis,” he uttered with quiet self loathing.

John gave a deep sigh and then, finding himself unable to sit still, he began pacing up and down the room in agitated contemplation as he considered all the implications of Richard’s confession. Soon his agile mind was coming up with a possible course of action to minimise the damage.

Richard too stood up and quietly began to take his clothes out of the drawers, making neat piles on the bed. John was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he didn’t at first notice what was going on. When Richard reached up to the top of the wardrobe to lift down one of their suitcases his attention was drawn by the noise and the movement.

“What on earth are you doing?”

“I’m packing. I’ll take as much as I can today and come back tomorrow for the rest.”

“Oh, Richard, please don’t leave me. Not now.”

Of all the responses Richard could have imagined from his partner, the look of devastation on John’s face and the note of despair in his voice were the most unexpected. Richard had braced himself for disappointment, anger and rejection. He had begun packing before he was asked to leave. Now he lifted his eyes, blurry with tears, to gaze at John with an almost childlike expression of hope. John held out his arms and Richard walked blindly into the embrace.

Richard’s heartfelt apologies, mumbled into his lover’s shoulder, blended with John’s soft words of reassurance and love. Both men felt they had weathered a terrible storm in their relationship and were entering a period of calm. Both had good reason for the guilt they still harboured but for the moment they were content to revel in the sense of relief and security which came from the reaffirmation of their love for one another.

John had been rubbing slow circles on Richard’s back to calm and relax him but as Richard leaned into the caresses John’s movements became more urgent. Richard lifted his face hopefully and John bent to kiss him, feeling the familiar stirring in his groin as his lover’s lips opened beneath his own. Somehow it seemed inappropriate to be initiating sex in the middle of the afternoon when the two of them were facing so many unresolved problems. But after a week apart and having experienced so much heartache, they were hungry for one another’s bodies. Each helped pull off his partner’s shirt and jumper, without interrupting their kisses and caresses. Soon hands strayed lower to locate and rub trapped erections. When the tension became unbearable they broke off to remove the rest of their clothing and Richard, who was ready first, turned to his lover with a hint of shyness.

John sank to his knees and took his Richard’s engorged penis into his mouth, rubbing his tongue repeatedly across the sensitive skin just behind the tip whilst gently pumping the shaft with a gel slicked hand. Richard gasped with pleasure and ran his hands lightly through his lover’s dark hair, taking care not to put any pressure on John’s head. They both knew the other’s likes and dislikes and had learnt how to maximise one another’s pleasure. It didn’t take much of John’s expert treatment to bring his partner to a shuddering climax which left him weak kneed and breathless. When Richard recovered the power to move he crawled onto the bed and knelt, opening himself to his partner in a favourite position for the two of them.

John took just a few moments to lubricate and prepare his lover before he thrust deeply into his body, savouring the tightness. Richard adjusted his position slightly to facilitate deeper penetration and enjoy the stimulation of his prostate. He loved feeling John’s body filling and surrounding him as his partner slowly moved his hips and ran his hands up and down his lover’s spine. John was in no hurry and he leant forward to plant little kisses on the nape of Richard’s neck just below the curling ends of his blonde hair. Then gradually his movements speeded up and his breathing became noisy and irregular just before he pressed himself firmly against Richard’s body and came with a groan of intense pleasure.

John lay unmoving for a minute or so, letting Richard take some of his weight as he got his breath back and enjoyed the familiar feeling of deep release and contentment. Then he slowly withdrew from his lover and wiped them both with tissues which he threw onto the bedside table before lying back and pulling the duvet over the two of them. Richard turned automatically to curl up in John’s arms and they dozed for a while until John, who was feeling the benefit of a good night’s sleep, woke first and began stroking his lover’s face and whispering in his ear.

“What was that then? Make up sex?” he enquired lovingly and with a hint of laughter in his voice.

“Very possibly,” came the sleepy reply. “Or a clinically well documented response to a near death experience.”

They both knew that this was a reference to the near death of their relationship and it was a sobering thought for the couple. They lay side by side, both of them thinking about Tavoularis v Tavoularis and eventually Richard asked.

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to report the breach of client confidentiality to the Head of Chambers and then he will decide whether it needs to be referred to the Bar Council.”

“Oh, God, no John. You’ll be struck off.”

“No, of course, I won’t… But I could be if I don’t report it now.”

“You’ll get into trouble though won’t you?”

“Well, yes. It is a lawyer’s responsibility to protect his client’s confidentiality. Any investigation will focus on the care I took of privileged information.”

“I feel terrible. It’s all my fault. I’m the one who should be punished, not you.”

“You were punished, my love, and very harshly. I’m so sorry and ashamed of what I did to you.”

“Don’t be. I manipulated you into that spanking to make myself feel better. It was a big lie and all it achieved was to make us both feel worse.” Richard sighed as he summoned up enough courage to speak the words he had never imagined himself ever saying. “I know that I need to be punished for this. When we’ve discovered what’s going to happen to you at work, please, can we work this out between us?”

“Don’t worry about that now,” said John who needed more time to consider how he was going to respond to Richard’s transgression. “We’ll be able to sort things out later. Come on, let’s get dressed and go out for dinner. There’s nothing to eat in the house so we’ve got a good excuse to spend the evening at our favourite restaurant.”

Richard and John enjoyed their meal and had a lie in on Sunday morning before getting up to read the papers and then go for a long walk in the country. John managed not to think too much about the interview he would have to arrange with the Head of Chambers. Richard managed, for some of the time at least, to forget about the guilt which was eating away at him.

It wasn’t always easy to see Sir Ian Carson, the Head of Chambers, at short notice. His diary was very full and he was currently chairing a government commission. It occurred to John as he travelled to work on Monday morning that he should enlist the help of Martin James who was best placed to fix things with Sir Ian. Apart from anything else, Martin was the only person in the office to whom he could divulge something of the nature of the problem. It would also be good, he reflected guiltily, to adopt a more caring and friendly manner towards the elderly clerk.

When Martin delivered a pile of documents to his office mid morning the clerk made no reference to their weekend companionship. Instead he maintained the professional reserve and deference he always exhibited until John looked up, greeted him warmly and asked for his help. Then Martin’s face glowed with pleasure and John realised for the first time how little it took to make Martin happy. He realised, with considerable guilt, that he had never taken the slightest notice of Martin in the past. Maybe, he reflected ruefully, the lesson of Friday night’s paddling had been driven home. He wondered if Martin knew what he had gone through and decided, to his own surprise, that he didn’t mind if Martin had indeed heard him yelling.

Martin went off to try and arrange an appointment with Sir Ian, delighted to be of service, especially as John had confided that the matter was both professional and personal and was, in part, the cause of the crisis in his relationship with Richard. It transpired that Sir Ian was out of the office all day Monday but Martin pressured his secretary to find a slot for John first thing on Tuesday.

When he was finally sitting in front of Sir Ian, John kept his account brief and to the point. He spoke in detached, professional tones to explain the breach of client confidentiality. He then apologised for his conduct and for failing to maintain the standards he knew Sir Ian expected.

Sir Ian sat thinking for a minute or two and then asked a few perceptive questions to get a fuller understanding of what had taken place. John had wanted to keep Richard out of the picture, especially as Sir Ian had met Richard and liked him enough to invite the two of them to spend a weekend at his house in the country. Sir Ian knew Richard was a doctor and the last thing John wanted was there to be any question of an ethical enquiry by the General Medical Council.

“You’ve done the right thing in reporting this to me as soon as it came to your attention. The lapse on your part was unintentional and inadvertent. Nonetheless, you failed to take proper care of privileged information. That is something we will have to address.”

John gulped and waited for the rest of Sir Ian’s judgement.

“The issue here is whether the leaked information is in the public domain already and available to the other party through legitimate sources.”

Sir Ian considered his own pronouncement and then made a rapid decision.

“Leave this with me. I think I might well be able to sort it out through certain contacts without damaging our client’s position. I’m not talking about any sort of a cover up either. You will produce a full written report for me on what has taken place. If you leave confidential documentation where it can be seen by a third party then the fault is yours. You will, therefore, receive an informal oral warning for negligence in your responsibilities to a client.”

That seemed like Sir Ian’s final statement on the matter and John got up to leave, expressing his thanks to the Head of Chambers for finding time to see him. He didn’t make it to the door though.

“Sit down, John. I told you that this matter merits a disciplinary warning. We do things properly in these Chambers, and an informal oral warning isn’t a paper exercise, although a record of it will go on paper in your file.”

Sir Ian then proceeded to deliver a blistering reminder of the need to protect client confidentiality and to uphold standards in Chambers. John was told in no uncertain terms what would happen if so powerful a client as Mr Tavoularis chose to make a formal complaint and take his corporate business elsewhere. John squirmed uncomfortably in his seat and shifted his gaze from a point above Sir Ian’s head to the wood grain in the antique desk. The last time he had felt so uncomfortable he was in the Lower Fifth and was in front of the headmaster to account for the one and only act of truancy in his whole school career.

Then it was over and Sir Ian was standing up and escorting him to the door.

“Don’t look so stricken, John. You did the right thing in coming to me. And I’ve done the right thing in issuing an informal warning. The record of it will be removed from your file in six months time if you maintain professional standards from now on. And I think I’ll be able to sort this out without any impropriety on our part or damage to our client’s position. Don’t worry.”

John walked out of Sir Ian’s office feeling unaccountably better. He hated being in trouble and now there was a warning on his personnel record. But somehow he felt he'd paid his dues and put the matter straight. Maybe, he thought, that’s what Richard wants when he says he needs to be punished for this offence. He just needs me to help him feel better. John smiled at the idea of doing a Sir Ian. That wasn’t their style as a couple at all. On the other hand, John could not countenance the idea of paddling Richard for the offence again, not after the thrashing he gave him last time. He was at a loss how to proceed.

When he got back to his office he found Martin shyly waiting for him and he realised he was ridiculously pleased to see a friendly face and have someone to consult. Martin was ready to back away at any sign that his presence was unwelcome but John firmly closed the door and pulled up a chair.

“Well,” he said with an attempt at humour, “I got an informal oral warning and I’m still reeling.”

“Sir Ian doesn’t take any prisoners does he?”

“You can say that again. But he’s going to sort the problem out for me and I somehow feel it’s all behind me and I can move on. What worries me now is how to deal with Richard. He’s really hurting over this and he’s going to be devastated when he learns that I’ve been disciplined. I just don’t know what to do.”

“Why don’t you ask Geoff?”

“Oh, I can’t bother him with this. Not after last week.”

“He won’t be very happy if you don’t ask for help when you need it. Especially after he promised to be available for you.”

When John showed no sign of making a positive response Martin continued decisively. “Right,” he said, “if you won’t contact him, I’m going to tell him that you and Richard are still in difficulties and you’re too proud to ask for his help.”

“Hey, not fair. You can’t drop me in it like that,” John protested. “I’ll come quietly, officer.”

“Yes do, come on home with me and you can consult Geoff in person.”

“I didn’t mean it literally.”

“But I did. Tuesday is my half day so let’s leave at lunchtime. Geoff is always at home on Tuesday afternoons and you’ve worked such long hours recently, you’re definitely due an afternoon off. Come on. I’ll give Geoff a ring and tell him to expect us.”

“Well, I did bring the car into work for some reason this morning so it would make things easy for getting home afterwards. If you’re really sure that Geoff wouldn’t mind, I would appreciate a bit of help and advice. I’m not sure I’m up for another practical demonstration though!”

Martin’s understanding laughter and eloquent shudder told John that his yells had not gone unheard.

This time Geoff was ready with Earl Grey tea, smoked salmon sandwiches and freshly baked carrot cake when the Porsche drew up alongside the village green. Afternoon tea was such a treat because John so rarely left work during the day; he felt like he was playing truant. He shared with Geoff and Martin the story of getting caught that one time when he played truant from school and how the memory of it returned when he was in trouble with Sir Ian. The ensuing laughter made it a bit easier to explain what Richard had done and to ask for advice in dealing with his errant lover.

Geoff gave the problem some serious thought and then asked, with seeming irrelevance, “What was the punishment for truancy, by the way?”

“An almighty telling off by the headmaster, which I hated, and detention every day for a week.”

“My old alma mater must have gone soft. In my day truancy would automatically have merited six of the best.”

John glanced up at the oar emblazoned with a school crest which was mounted on the wall. It had caught his attention on his first visit to the house.

“I take it you’re an Old Boy,” he said. “I didn’t realise you knew I went to the same school.”

“Oh, Martin knows where all the barristers in Chambers were educated, don’t you, darling? And yes, I did row for the school, and at Oxford. The oar is a memento of the year we won The Head of the River.”

“So were you caned when you were at school?” asked John as casually as he could manage. Although he was too young to have been caned himself, the punishment was so much a part of the lore and tradition of his old school, it had always held a fascination for him. It had certainly featured in a number of his fantasies but, like many a fantasy, he suspected it was more fun in the imagination than in reality.

“Occasionally, when I deserved it,” responded Geoff noncommittally. “And I dished out a few canings too when I was a prefect.”

“I suppose you still have your prefect’s cane.”

“Oh, yes. Although over the years we’ve added quite a few more canes to our collection, haven’t we Martin?”

Martin’s conspiratorial smile said it all and John spluttered into his tea. He suspected that Geoff had deliberately steered the conversation to this point but he was damned if he was going to let embarrassment prevent him from responding to the challenge.

“Are you getting around to suggesting that I cane Richard, because there’s no way I’m going to injure him over this?”

“Who said anything about causing an injury? A cane is a very versatile instrument. It certainly inspires considerable respect, and rightly so, but in the hands of an expert it can provide a very erotic experience, wouldn’t you agree, Martin?”

John couldn’t quite come to terms with the fact that Martin, the very image of English propriety, still dressed in his pinstripe suit, could grin so delightedly when asked to confirm such a thing.

“Okay, John,” Geoff continued in a less bantering tone, “I do think that a caning might very well be what Richard needs right now. You say he’s feeling very guilty, and that’s understandable. What he did was serious and could have had disastrous consequences, not least for your career. How do you think he’s going to feel tonight when he hears that you’ve been disciplined and a record of it has been placed on your file? He’s made it clear that he expects to be punished and it’s up to you to give him the absolution he craves.”

“But I’ve already punished him when I paddled him and that punishment was harsher than anything he deserved for copying my papers.”

“Fine. So don’t punish him for that offence again. Instead you focus on the fact that he manipulated you and deceived you. In other words, he lied to you. The cane will frighten him. It will convince him that you take a very serious view of his misconduct and if you use it properly you can inflict sufficient pain without doing any serious damage. You’ll see the welts and Richard won’t sit comfortably for a day or two but it will give him the closure he needs… Now what about a bit more carrot cake?”

John accepted a second slice and ate it while considering Geoff’s proposal which seemed the right solution the more he thought about it. Richard might have resisted the first time John had forced him to take a punishment spanking but thereafter he seemed to have accepted it as part of their relationship. It was more than acceptance, he seemed to find some sort of release from guilt and there was no doubt that fear of punishment had curbed the wilder excesses of his conduct.

“I’d need to know exactly what I was doing,” said John without knowing quite when he had finally made up his mind.

“Don’t worry. I’ll demonstrate for you.”

“Oh, shit!”

“I said for you, not on you. We can use a cushion. How about you go and choose an appropriate implement, Martin. You’re probably best qualified to make the selection,” Geoff added with a smile.

While Martin disappeared upstairs Geoff pulled the sofa away from the wall and arranged a large cushion across its arm. When Martin returned with a short, pale cane John eyed it warily, especially when he heard the evil swish it made as Geoff punished the innocent cushion. He entered into the spirit of things more readily though when invited to have a go himself, concentrating on Geoff’s instructions about the need for accuracy and moderate swing.

Finally John began to think he might be able to give Richard what he needed but he found himself bothered by the advice Geoff had given him on his previous visit.

“You know you said you shouldn’t use an implement on someone else until you’ve felt its effects yourself. Well… don’t you think… perhaps… that you’d better…”

“Oh, you want to be on the receiving end. No problem.”

“I don’t! It looks scary but I think I need to feel just one stroke to know what this thing can do. No harder than I will want to be with Richard though,” he added hastily.

“Over your trousers old school style, or bare bottom?”

“I think I’ll need to see what I’m doing with Richard, so bare bottom.”

“Very wise. When I was at school there were masters who could draw blood even through the seat of your pants. It’s all in the power of the swing. This cane doesn’t need much assistance to make itself felt, as you’ve learnt.”

John unzipped his fly and slid his trousers and underpants down just a few inches at the back before he moved the cushion and placed himself over the arm of the sofa.

“You haven’t given me much of a target,” Geoff observed as he pulled John’s shirt tails out of the way.

“Sorry.” John went to stand up intending to lower his trousers further but was restrained by a firm hand on his back.

“Don’t worry. It’s important to be able to aim reliably and I have a very straight eye.”

With that Geoff laid the cane gently across John’s buttocks causing an involuntary flinch which made the older man laugh.

“Feel where I’ve placed the tip of the cane.” Geoff pressed the implement down to emphasise his point. “It’s in the middle of your far cheek. This is a whippy cane and it’s important to avoid wraparound which can severely bruise the flank.”

John didn’t feel very reassured to be given that information and he gritted his teeth in preparation for the single cut, expecting it to be firm but not fierce. He was, therefore, quite unprepared for the searing agony as the cane bit into his buttocks, and he leapt to his feet, frantically grabbing at the abused section of his anatomy and yelping piteously.

Martin, who had been in the kitchen, chose that moment to come back into the sitting room carrying a fresh pot of tea and John glanced at him ruefully, only too aware of the ludicrous figure he must cut, hopping around clutching his backside and yelling.

“Well this cane seems fit for purpose.” Geoff observed. “I think we’ll make it a gift to John and Richard. As long as you don’t mind, Martin.”

“Oh, I’m more than happy to make the sacrifice,” Martin said with marked emphasis. “Shall I gift wrap it or would you prefer it in a plain brown wrapper, John?”

In the end John left with the cane in a Tesco’s plastic bag which he placed on the seat beside him as he drove home. Every so often he reached out and touched it as he rehearsed in his mind what he planned that evening for Richard. He felt the sting of Geoff’s one moderate stripe throughout the drive home and he was anxious not to overdo it with Richard who would expect no less than the six strokes which they both knew was the traditional tally.

Richard was already home when John arrived. He must have managed to get away from the hospital early for once. He had started preparing supper but he seemed to be in an agitated state and was anxious to know how John’s interview with the Head of Chambers had gone. John rapidly decided that postponing the inevitable was more than either of them could bear and so he told Richard to put the kettle on while he went to get changed and then the two men sat down at the kitchen table for a serious talk.

John’s first priority was to reassure his lover and he emphasised the fact that Sir Ian had undertaken to resolve the problem without there being any need to divulge to their client the lapse in security. However, he watched the colour drain from Richard’s face when he explained that he had received an informal oral warning. He tried to make light of it but Richard was too astute not to recognise this as the first stage of the contractual disciplinary process.

“Is this going to damage your career prospects? I’ll never forgive myself if I’ve blighted your career.”

“Stop beating yourself up. As long as I’m a good boy for the next six months, this reprimand will be expunged from my personnel record.”

“That’s just it. I am beating myself up. I can’t sleep for worrying about it. I feel so guilty. I told you I need you to punish me for copying your papers. I am dreading it but I need it too. Please believe me, darling.”

“Listen to me, Richard. You were punished, and punished very harshly, for stealing that information… No, listen to me. As far as I’m concerned you’ve more than paid for your sins in that regard. What we need to address now is the fact that you hid from me what you had actually done and you manipulated me into punishing you for something you hadn’t done. That equates to a huge breach of trust and a major lie. Forget about the fact that you stole confidential information. It’s your offence against me that I’m going to deal with this evening. And when we’ve dealt with it, that’s the end of the matter. I’ve forgiven you and you need to forgive yourself and move on. Do you understand?”

Richard just nodded. There was a confidence and a finality about John’s speech and manner which his partner hadn’t witnessed before. It precluded further argument but it also inspired confidence and trust. When John told Richard to go up to their bedroom and wait for him, Richard moved at once without question. John took his time to calm down and run through in his mind once again how he intended to conduct this punishment session. Not knowing how things would go afterwards, he checked the oven and turned down the temperature. He then went out to the car and brought in the Tesco’s bag before he walked upstairs with a confident tread.

Richard had been sitting on the bed but he stood up with a look of anxious enquiry as his partner opened the bedroom door. John had no intention of drawing things out. As far as he was concerned, the time for talking was over and he saw Richard’s eyes widen in fear as he caught sight of the cane. The kindest thing was to get this over as soon as possible.

“Remember,” he said, “I’m not punishing you again for stealing confidential information. That’s what we lawyers call double jeopardy!” and he smiled at Richard to reinforce the fact that he wasn’t being punished in anger. “This is just for deceiving me and lying to me.”

In a firmer tone he issued his instructions. “I’m going to give you six strokes of the cane. I want you to remove your trousers and underpants and then bend over the end of the bed.”

When Richard made no move to comply, John added encouragingly, “You might want to remove your socks and shoes first.”

That seemed to shake Richard out of his frozen state and he bent with trembling hands to undo his laces and pull off his shoes and socks. Richard watched with compassion as his lover struggled to unfasten his trousers and then attempted unsuccessfully to fold them along their knife edge creases. For a man who was normally so deft with his hands, Richard’s inept handling of his clothing demonstrated very clearly the extent of his agitation. Finally he slipped his thumbs under the waistband of his boxers and, turning away from his lover’s gaze, he pushed his underwear hastily to the floor and stepped towards the end of the bed.

Richard stood there for a few moments gathering the courage to place himself in position. John was content to wait; it gave him time to strengthen his own resolve. Finally, with a deep sigh, Richard bent forward, his knuckles turning white as his long fingers clutched tightly at the bedcover. John stepped forward and slid Richard’s shirt up his back to reveal the pale curves of his bottom. He measured the distance as he placed the cane lightly across the centre of Richard’s buttocks just as Geoff had taught him. He took his time, although he sensed that Richard was holding his breath, and then he lifted his arm, not too high, and swung the cane firmly downwards.

He expected to hear the swish through the air and the thwack on impact, but practising on a cushion had not prepared him for the reverberation of wood on flesh which was transmitted through the implement right back up his arm. Nor had he expected to see the welt emerge like a photograph in a developing tray, the distinctive tram lines left by the cane darkening even as he watched. Richard’s fortitude was obviously greater than his own, he reflected wryly, for apart from a grunt on impact and an audible intake of breath, Richard made no sound.

John gave him a few moments to recover before placing the cane carefully below the first welt, determined not to cause additional pain by hitting the same spot twice. He tried to moderate the force a little for the second stroke but, judging by Richard’s agonised yell, he felt it more intensely than the first. As the mark darkened, John was reassured to see that it was precisely parallel with the first cut and placed in exactly the intended position.

Richard, meanwhile was gritting his teeth and bracing himself for the next stroke as he felt John place the cane in position yet further down his buttocks. Although he couldn’t see the extent of the damage he knew he would soon have a very even set of stripes across his backside. As he waited for the cane to descend he just had time to reflect that this was the stuff of his fantasies before the an explosion of white light behind his tightly closed eyelids and an intense burning pain across his backside reminded him that there was a yawning gap between erotic fantasy and actual reality. His resolve to take his punishment without begging deserted him and he shouted out his apologies and pleas for John to desist, pleas which were discounted by his partner.

Instead, John lined up the fourth stoke to land along the crease just below Richard’s buttocks. When the cane descended precisely on the chosen spot, Richard’s body reared up and he flung his hands back to rub himself frantically whilst jumping up and down in a fruitless attempt to absorb the blazing sting. John was content to wait for Richard to recover his composure, certain that he would place himself back in position without being instructed to do so. Although he had just pleaded with John to stop, they both knew that he needed this punishment, as well as the security of trusting John to give him the promised six stokes.

The fifth stroke, falling across the top of Richard’s thighs caused his legs to collapse and he fell forward onto the bed with another frantic yell of pain. It took him a moment to recover sufficiently to lever himself back upright and lock his knees, as he bent once more to take the final stroke. John took the time to look closely at the stripes across Richard’s buttocks, checking that the skin wasn’t broken anywhere, before deciding to finish in the traditional manner by placing the final cut diagonally across the first five. This would hurt and Richard was aware of John’s intention as he felt the angle of the cane as it tapped lightly across his buttocks before the implement was raised to deliver the final searing cut.

John then flung the cane onto the bed and bent to pull his shaking lover into his arms, noting with satisfaction that he wasn’t crying, although his eyes were brimming with unshed tears which John gently dried with his handkerchief. He kissed and caressed Richard, praising him for his bravery and telling him that it was all over and everything was all right. The language was infantile but Richard found it comforting and he leant into John’s strong embrace and closed his eyes. Eventually John helped him dress in a loosely fitting pair of trousers and suggested going back downstairs for supper.

Richard took a few minutes first to sort himself out on his own in the bathroom. He filled the sink with cold water and then liberally splashed his face. Then he gingerly lowered his trousers and craned round to survey the damage, running his hand over the raised welts, of which he was beginning to feel rather proud. He dipped a flannel in the basin before squeezing out the excess water and spreading the cold cloth across his burning bottom. It provided effective pain relief and he decided he might just be able to swallow some of the casserole he had prepared earlier when he was trying to take his mind off the prospect of punishment.

Just as well, he thought, that he hadn’t had any inkling that he would be facing the cane. That knowledge would have reduced him to a nervous wreck, quite incapable of preparing even the simplest meal. However, now that he’d had six of the best — he laughed to himself at the traditional public school terminology — he wouldn’t be so terrified next time. But there wasn’t going to be a next time, he told himself hastily. Unless… unless, he was allowed to dress up as a schoolboy and John played the part of the headmaster, with the emphasis on playing a part. Yes, Richard would definitely be doing his utmost to avoid a punishment caning ever again… but acting out one of his favourite erotic fantasies, well, that was another matter altogether. He would need to talk to John about that.

Over dinner, which Richard elected to eat standing at the kitchen counter, he made his enquiry as casual as possible.

“Did you buy that cane specially to use on me today?”

“No, it was a present.”

Richard’s paused with his fork half way to his mouth as he reacted with shock at the unexpected reply. “Who on earth would give you such an awful present?”

“Geoff and Martin.”

John saw comprehension dawn on his partner’s face much more quickly than he himself had grasped the nature of Geoff and Martin’s relationship.

“And they used that cane for fun, did they?”

“I reckon so.”

“Even in play it would deliver quite a sting.”

“Yeah, I think it would.”

“So we’d need to experiment a bit first,” Richard suggested hopefully.

“Yes,” agreed John, smiling at his lover’s eager expression. “We’ll definitely have to experiment.”